Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 44, September 2000


By the late Reg Bell (Written in 1982)

When my parents, Reginald and Mary Bell moved to Waihi from Westport in 1913 they purchased a home on the corner of Kenny and Baber Streets. (This house still stands today, 1998.)

The large, four bedroomed home was built in 1910 by Mr G Fisk, who was a craftsman of distinction. A number of the homes around Waihi bear his style and are easily recognisable with their features including iron lace decorations framing the verandas that often encompassed two or three sides of the house, a high main entrance and exacting workmanship. The Kenny Street house was made from the best heart kauri and remained for years exactly as it was built for its first owners, Aubrey and Dorothy Toy. Mr Toy was the proprietor of the local paper, the "Waihi Telegraph" and he was a stockbroker.

My father, a dental surgeon, bought his dental practice from a Mr Cranwell and had his rooms in Haszard Street where a more recent dentist, Mr Bruce Wilson had his surgery. At the time my father was the only dentist in town. About once every three months he packed his instruments and portable drill, saddled the horse that grazed in the paddock next to our house, and did his rounds of the Coromandel Peninsula.

On horseback, he spent some days travelling to the township of Coromandel, through Whangamata, Tairua, and Thames, stopping on the way at the small towns to cure the locals of toothache. It cost 2/6 to have a tooth extracted. With the very best porcelain filling for the front teeth costing 10/-.

For me and my sister, Molly, one of the more memorable days of the week was Wednesday, as that was the day when mother had her "at home day" for the society ladies of the town. Tea and sandwiches were served in the huge lounge, chat was exchanged and the fashion of the day discussed. Long frocks were worn and gloves were very much a part of the ensemble, as was a large Swiss straw hat decorated with tulle and hand made roses. M'lady always left her visiting card, and these were collected by Molly and me.

We had to make ourselves scarce on a Wednesday, what with all those prim and proper ladies about. We were not welcome at all but there was plenty for youngsters to do in Waihi. We had no trouble making our own fun in those days. I also learnt the piano at a young age and had the use of the family gramophone, a windup instrument, which played the old 78 records.

A maid was employed to help mother with the household chores, and she lived in with the family. She mainly did all the cleaning and mother did all the cooking. This was done on a large coal range which had a wetback to heat water for baths. A meat safe near the back door kept foodstuffs fresh in the days before refrigeration.

When mother was not entertaining she played golf, excelling at the sport and becoming the local ladies' champion for many years. Waihi then was far more class conscious than today. The elite of the town, those in the professions and mine officials mixed, while the miners themselves were a class apart.

Those were prohibition days but I remember the miners still loved their drop of beer and there were many houses with its own home brew shed out the back. A day at the beach was not the casual affair that it became in later years. It meant a lengthy trip by horse and buggy over metal roads, with umbrellas at the ready in case of rain.

I can remember the first car to arrive in Waihi, one owned by Hubert Barry, the mine superintendent. This car, open to all weather, carried the passengers seated with their backs to the driver, with the view fast disappearing into the distance, obscured by the dust from the poor roads.

Mr Reg Bell, who wrote the above article in 1982 was a teacher, photographer and scholar in Japanese languages. He lived in the house until he died in 1985. It was then sold to Peter McGregor who turned it into two flats. Present owners are Jenny and Roger Ward who plan to make the house liveable with modern conveniences, whilst preserving its Edwardian personality. Eventually they hope to open it to the public so that they can see the house as it would have been in its heyday.